Tennessee officials will have to pay $125,000 to settle claims they arrested a man over a meme about a fallen officer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities in Tennessee have settled a First Amendment lawsuit for $125,000, the plaintiff’s lawyers said Monday. The lawsuit was filed by a Man who said he was arrested about a derogatory social media post about a police officer who was killed in the line of duty.

Joshua was arrested in January 2021 after posting a meme showing two people urinating on a gravestone with a photo of one Dickson County sheriff’s officer fatally shot added to the image in 2018. Garton’s lawyers filed a federal lawsuit in Nashville, arguing that their client’s First Amendment right to free speech had been violated.

Garton’s post was captioned: “I want to show my respect to Deputy Daniel Baker of the #dicksoncounty Police Department.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was called in at the request of District Attorney Ray Crouch. Investigators determined the photo came from an album cover that had a copy of Baker’s official work portrait “crudely” affixed to the grave, court documents show.

Garton was charged with harassment and jailed on $76,000 bond for nearly two weeks until a Dickson County judge dismissed the charges.

“Retaliation under the First Amendment is illegal and law enforcement officers who arrest people for violations must face severe consequences,” Garton’s lead attorney Daniel Horwitz said in a news release Monday. “Government officials who misbehave make excuses with money, and Mr. Garton considers more than $10,000 a day for his illegal detention to be an acceptable excuse.”

A copy of the notarized settlement Included in the press release was a lawsuit signed by Garton indicating that he agreed to accept $125,000 from the state to settle claims against two Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officers and Crouch, the district attorney. The agreement also states that by settling, the defendants are not admitting any wrongdoing, liability or concessions to the government, but are instead seeking to “avoid the burden and expense of continuing this litigation.”

A court filing Monday by Garton’s attorneys informed the judge of the settlement and said the lawsuit should be dismissed.

A spokesman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation declined to comment. Crouch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Documents released as part of a public records request filed by Horwitz show that investigators believed Garton’s social media post could be perceived as threatening or intimidating to Baker’s surviving relatives – even if he did not send it to them had sent.

“The trolls will do what trolls do. It appears that they and the attorneys are forgetting that there are surviving family members who also have rights,” TBI Director David Rausch said in a text conversation included in the recordings.

The lawsuit argued that Garton was the victim of a “false arrest and malicious prosecution,” with authorities “detaining him for weeks and leaking his mugshot and the fact of his arrest to the news media and public in retaliation for disrespect toward police.” “.

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